Motorcycle accident claims are personal injury lawsuits that are filed after an accident involving a motorcycle that caused injuries to a person and/or property. Personal injury lawsuits are usually based on a claim that the defendant was negligent and that negligence caused harm to the plaintiff or victim.

Riding a motorcycle is riskier than driving or riding in a car. Therefore, accidents involving motorcycles are more likely to result in serious injuries or death to the person or persons riding on the motorcycle.

The plaintiff must prove the four elements of a negligence claim to prevail in court. The elements are:

  1. Duty: The defendant had a duty to the plaintiff to act as a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances. For example, if the defendant was operating a motorcycle or other vehicle in the rain, they had a duty to take reasonable care by having their headlights on and driving slower. The defendant also has a duty to other drivers on the road to keep their vehicle in a safe operating condition so that it does not pose a danger to other motorists.
  2. Breach: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty. Using the example above, the plaintiff might provide evidence that the defendant was speeding or failed to use their headlights when they were needed to increase visibility.
  3. Causation: There must be evidence that the breach of the duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, the defendant driving too fast must have been the cause of the injury. “But for” the defendant’s speed, they would have been able to stop before they hit the plaintiff or have had enough time to react and avoid a collision.
  4. Damages: The plaintiff must have been harmed. They must have suffered some kind of physical, mental, or emotional injury or have sustained property damage.

A motorcycle accident claim based on negligence will need to demonstrate all of the elements for the plaintiff to recover damages. When a motorcycle or motorcycles are involved, the standard of care will be that of a reasonable motorcycle operator.

Which Parties Can be Held Liable in a Motorcycle Accident?

The operator of the motorcycle involved in an accident or the driver of the other vehicle involved might be liable. Either party may have been negligent and caused an accident. In some cases the drivers of both vehicles were negligent and contributed to the cause of the accident.

The court will consider all of the evidence presented to determine which party was responsible for the accident and any resulting damage or injuries. Some things the court might consider include:

  • Weather and road conditions
  • Whether the parties were violating any traffic laws
  • Whether the operator of the motorcycle was wearing a helmet

The court will review witness statements, the condition of the vehicles involved in the accident, photos or videos of the accident on the scene where it took place, physical evidence, such as skid marks on the road, damage to road signs or other structures at the scene, and the condition of the vehicle. The court might also take into account the driving records of the drivers involved.

What Kinds of Injuries are Involved in Motorcycle Accidents?

Injuries resulting from a motorcycle accident can range from minor to severe, including possible death. Some common more minor injuries include road rash, broken bones, including fracturing facial bones, and burns. More serious injuries that are common after motorcycle accidents are traumatic brain injuries (which can range from a concussion to more permanent brain damage), spinal cord injuries and paralysis, and amputated limbs.

Road rash is probably the most common injury suffered during a motorcycle accident due to the nature of a motorcycle. A rider is not enclosed like they are in a car, so if they are thrown off of the motorcycle and their body travels across the road, their skin can suffer significant damage. If the injury is not treated promptly and properly, the rider can suffer from infection, irritation, and possible nerve damage.

Motorcycle riders who are involved in an accident may also suffer from emotional distress and mental anguish. These injuries may not be visible, but can also be serious and debilitating.

What are Some Causes of Motorcycle Accidents?

The causes of motorcycle accidents are similar to other vehicle accidents. The same conditions that can make driving a car risky, exist for motorcycles riders. However, the injuries are often much more severe when a motorcycle is involved in an accident. They do not provide the same protection as other vehicles.

Some common causes of motorcycle accidents include:

  • Lane Splitting: Lane splitting is when a motorcycle rider drives between two lanes instead of clearly within one. In some states lane splitting is allowed. In states where lane splitting is illegal, there is clear fault on the part of the motorcycle rider if there is an accident. If lane splitting is not against the law, liability will be determined based on the elements of negligence.
  • Road Hazards: Road hazards, like potholes, objects in the road, uneven or poorly marked lanes can often be more dangerous for smaller vehicles like motorcycles. Liability may depend on whether the city should have removed the hazard and therefore whether they have some responsibility for accidents that occurred because of it.
  • Speeding: Speeding and other violations of traffic laws can pose a danger to motorcycle riders and other drivers. When a motorcycle is travelling at an excessive speed, the rider has less time to react to other vehicles or dangers in the road. Vehicles that get into collisions at higher speeds suffer more damage and injuries to people are often more serious.
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI): Driving under the influence while operating a motorcycle puts the rider at a higher risk of getting into an accident. Driving under the influence is a crime and a driver guilty of DUI will also be held liable for injuries to other drivers or passengers.
  • Left-Turn Accidents: Accidents may occur when a car is making a left turn and hits a vehicle driving straight down the road. In this situation the driver making the left turn is liable because the other vehicle had the right of way. However, if a motorcycle was the vehicle driving straight but the rider was traveling too fast or otherwise driving dangerously, they may be at fault.

Does the Northern Virginia Area Have any Special Motorcycle Laws?

Some states have specific laws regarding motorcycles and their operation. Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland all require anyone operating a motorcycle to wear a helmet. Virginia law also requires operators to wear a face shield, safety glasses or goggles, or to have their motorcycle equipped with a windshield or safety glass.

In terms of liability in a motorcycle accident lawsuit, the failure of a person operating a motorcycle to wear a helmet, wear a face shield or goggles, or equip their motorcycle with a windshield or safety glass, cannot be used as evidence of negligence on the part of a plaintiff and to prevent them from recovering damages.

This is especially important because states like Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. are contributory negligence states. In states that use a contributory negligence system, any negligence on the part of the plaintiff prevents them from recovering from the defendant for their injuries.

Even though not wearing a helmet cannot be used to prove the plaintiff was negligent and contributed to their injuries (or made their injuries worse), other evidence can be introduced to show the plaintiff was all or somewhat at fault for the accident. If the plaintiff was negligent and contributed to the cause of the accident, contributory negligence states that they cannot recover.

What are Helmet Laws?

Some states have laws in place that mandate motorcycle operators wear helmets or other protective gear, like goggles or face shields. Motorcycle riders who do not wear helmets are breaking the law. However, as stated above, failure to wear a helmet in some states, like Northern Virginia and the surrounding jurisdictions of Maryland and Washington D.C. is not evidence of negligence per se or an automatic determination that the plaintiff was at fault for their injuries and unable to recover.

Do I Need a D.C. Lawyer for Help with a Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit?

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident you should consult with a local personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney will be familiar with state and local laws that might impact your chance to recover damages. They can negotiate with the defendant and insurance companies, secure a settlement on your behalf, or represent you in court.